Clothes Fashion

Label Love: The Zero Waste Designs of Ø Karen Glass

By Chere Di Boscio

It may seem hard to pronounce, but the Ø in designer Karen Glass’s logo just represents a big, fat, zero – which is exactly how much waste her luxury fashion company produces.

But there’s more: apart from a green ethos, they also have a social mission, to not only to provide a safe and nurturing work environment for women who have survived victimization, but also to provide a commerce platform for artists, beyond the selling of a single piece or a commissioned body of work, by collaborating on detailed articles of clothing and selling carefully curated art within their retail concept.

The brand is comprised of 3 lines:

Ø archive, which turns globally-sourced textile artefacts into one-off articles of clothing, made in series of 3-5 per collection with an occasional single piece; Ø 2 which takes second-hand menswear garments and turns them into new womenswear, and Ø knit. 

We caught up with Karen Glass to learn more about her work as a designer and promoter of social enterprises.

What makes your brand unique?

Our purpose. It is foundational to the brand and to how we do business. We aspire to raise awareness and action about living life more consciously, with fewer things of greater value. This includes not only things but thoughts as well. We hope to inspire people to think and act more consciously, to be more aware of the consequences of their choices and actions.

Our up-cycle apparel (Ø archive & Ø2) produce a beautiful unique aesthetic that took years to develop. Whilst our newly-made line (Ø knit) speaks directly to our purpose of impacting the amount of post consumer textile waste on the planet, starting within our own sphere of influence.

A key aesthetic driver in shaping our media presence is the curation and integration of creative cultural intelligence into our customer experience, both in stores and online. We are building a “creative intelligence” news feed of sorts that captures all types of media that is internationally relevant to shaping culture, with a focus on emerging and counter-culture happenings, individuals and communities.

How do you select your materials?

Ø archive uses textile and apparel artefacts collected globally, and transforms them into new pieces of wearable art. I have collected textile artefacts as inspiration for apparel collections I designed and developed over the past 25 years. I select fabrics I consider to be culturally iconic or representative of a specific moment in time time that I see as artistically relevant in the present (e.g. our first Ø archive series, “obi”).

The obi artefacts were found in the Clignancourt flea market in Paris, with the original factory labels still on them. The obi (a broad sash worn round the waist of a kimono) appeared to have been made in China circa 1930’s, given the fabric construction and the textile art within the piece.

The rest of the collection of artefacts come from individual collectors, textile art houses, factory samples rooms and cutting room end cuts.

How do you select pieces to upcycle into new?

Ø archive is made in series based on a specific artefact. The bulk of the artefact is cut and used in the first piece, what’s left over from that is used in a second piece either to form base-cloth or as embellishment. And so on, until the original artefact is entirely gone. This becomes raw material for paper or is used by local artists in their work (such as Luca Barolli, a member of our collective).

It’s similar to how narrative is formed in a piece of artwork, the embellishment tells the story of the process, and the artefact cut-waste is diminished after each new piece is made.

Ø 2 takes vintage jackets, tees, shirts and jeans (mostly menswear) and transforms these pieces into either gender free or womenswear pieces. T-shirts are re-tailored with an updated fit, overdyed in natural dyes featuring indigo and neutrals, and then embellished with a hand-distress process and stitch artistry. One of ours goal is to connect with a denim manufacturer and, using their 2nds, work with artists who would use each pair of jeans as a canvas with the media of their choice, including stitch artistry.

The cotton fibre for our third line, Ø knit, is grown in Belize, spun into yarn in Italy and made in to garments in Nepal.

Isn’t the CO2 footprint of the Knit Collection a bit heavy?

In fact, my first concern about our supply chain on the knitwear was our carbon footprint, but I realized after researching the fibre and yarn market so extensively that the most exquisite yarn quality could  only be grown in a “sea isle” climate like Belize. Then, it would need to be processed into yarn in a factory that has considerable experience in spinning only the very best qualities; we work with Cariaggi yarn makers because they produce the finest quality available; incredibly soft and supple and wears beautifully.

We work with ANS knitting in Nepal as part of our social and environmental purpose. The factory is GOTS (global organic textile standard) experienced, I worked closely with them to transform their factory to meet social and environmental global compliance. Nepal is a nation undergoing great
change and I believe they can make a global niche market contribution; my aim is that we
can significantly contribute to their textile and apparel industry’s growth.

For Ø knit we use lycra consciously because we see the value of garment life extension as critical. Invista, who produces lycra, now offers a biodegradable option! The aesthetic of Ø knit speaks to how we see our brand and product offering as a conscious lifestyle choice. It is purposefully clean, elegant and minimal. They are breathable and a delight to wear for a light yoga practice, but also pair beautifully with the ornamental aspects of Ø archive and Ø 2.

Which brands do you look to for inspiration?

Martin Margiela’s persona and business ethos has always inspired me, he sees his company as a collective, he does not position himself on a pedestal in his work or in the brand’s marketing. He has worked in garment deconstruction with textile artefacts, which is the foundation of our Øarchive line. Plus, now Galliano is there; his work in embellishment and conceptual design is breath-taking.

Miuccia Prada will always be an inspiration to me, first of all coming from my mother’s big Italian family, I relate to her heritage! Professionally, I find Prada to be the most universally consistently relevant design house, above and beyond its contemporaries. The brand’s work spreads into all
facets of culture, not just fashion. I love their use of short film in marketing, and her brave collaborations in art and architecture, these are both very relevant to what happens within the Øzwkg collective.

Dries Van Noten, another Belgian designer creates inspiring work in color, print & pattern and embellishment. I love all of the beautiful special details that speak so elegantly to current and past cultural textile references.

Who is the øzwkg woman?

I am very straight-forward and would like to think that I am kind and honest. At this time in my life, service is important, to be able help women is what touches me now. I would hope our brand appeals to women of like mind.

We describe our customer as fierce, creative and conscious. She lives with purpose and makes choices in life fully aware of the impact they have on herself, those around her and ultimately all living communities.

Contemplative practice is part of her lifestyle and is integrated into her work and personal life with balance and grace. She has great appreciation for remarkable interesting and well-made clothes and art.

Culturally aware and purpose-driven, she works in or businesses in creative, humanitarian, environmental or innovative design fields.


How does Beloved help women, exactly?

The økg life-work project helps women overcome hardship.

Beloved is a young non profit that transitions victimized women; the program provides (free of charge) residence, drug rehab, counseling, education/college courses and job readiness training to women who have experienced addiction, trafficking, and sexual exploitation.

Atlanta has the largest commercial sex trade in the US. our partnership with them is two fold: we provide advocacy for their mission and next phase life transitioning into sustainable employment through our apprenticeship program that can lead to full time employment.

For more information, please click here.



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